Sermon for the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 10A), July 10, 2005. Delivered by the Rev. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas, Grace Church, Amherst, Massachusetts.
|Isaiah 55:1-5, 10-3
|Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
Seeds of God
Today’s parable of the sower brings me back to a crystal-clear summer morning many years ago. I am standing in the hallway by the front door, trying to get everything organized so that my son will arrive on time for his first day of summer camp. The lunch-box is ready with the foods that this particular seven-year-old will be likely to eat, there is a change of clothes in his bag, I have found the bottle of sunscreen, I am about to go looking for a towel, and surely Sam’s bathing-suit is around here somewhere. Just then, Sam gets it into his head that he absolutely must change the shoelaces on his sneakers. The white ones simply won’t do anymore: they’re too long. What he needs, he tells me, are the brown shoelaces from his hiking shoes: they are just the right length for his sneakers. So here I am, standing with Sam in the hallway, the two of us peering down at one of his hiking shoes as I try to untie the knot and pull out the shoelace so that we can thread it into a sneaker. And suddenly I am overtaken by happiness. I have suddenly discovered that this is the most wonderful moment in the world. Here is this son of mine whom I love so much, all freckles and innocence; here are my hands, involved in a useful and simple task; here is a brand-new morning, full of infinite possibilities.
If someone were to come up to me and ask, “How big is God?” I suppose I could start waving my arms around, make big, sweeping gestures. I could answer, “Oh, God is huge, God fills the heavens and the earth, God is in everything, and everywhere, there is no way our minds can encompass the enormity of God!” And I suppose I would be right. But sometimes God is very small. I hear that scientists have discovered a particle so small that it can pass right through the earth without bumping into anything, so small that it can pass right through our bodies without touching any part of us. Sometimes God can be that small, so small that we miss the presence of the Holy One unless we’re paying close attention. As Jesus suggests in the parable of the sower, God can seem as tiny as a seed, as tiny as a brief moment in a hallway when you look at your son and are suddenly pierced by joy.
Do you want to see God? Well then, says Jesus, don’t go looking for God only in the high dramas, the big deals. Look for God in what is small maybe in the slant of evening light, as the setting sun casts a glow across the grass; in the eyes of a friend, as you pause in a conversation simply to gaze at the face of this person you love; in the last, lingering note of an aria from Bach as it trails off into silence. Look for God in that quick-silver impulse to pick up the phone and call someone who is lonely. Look for God in that hint of a desire to give someone a hand or to say a kind word. Look for God in those moments when an invisible Someone practically tugs at our sleeve, urging, “Wake up now and pay attention! I’m up to something here!” God is in the details, Jesus says to us today–in the small stuff, in the seeds.
What are the seeds that God is sowing in you? What are the little stirrings that signal the presence within you of this exuberant farmer-God who flings seeds so recklessly through the cosmos, hoping that they will somewhere find an answering heart? Maybe you notice a restless stirring within yourself, some kind of insistent call to new life. Maybe you feel a gentle coaxing to open up just a crack and to risk trusting, if just for a moment, that really and truly, you are loved just as you are. Maybe you feel the tiniest of invitations to take a chance, take a leap: there is something that needs to be done, and you are just the person to do it. Maybe you feel a tug to forgive someone whom you’ve refused for years to let back into your heart, or maybe you feel nudged to admit that the time has come to make someone an apology, and to ask for forgiveness. Maybe you are suddenly touched by gratitude, overtaken on an ordinary day by the sheer gift of being alive. These are just some of the many seeds of God, clues of the Holy One who gives the divine Self to us at every moment.
Here’s another story about a seed. There was once a lawyer who was a good lawyer–indeed a very good lawyer. But he kept feeling a persistent restlessness, an uncomfortable sense that his life didn’t quite fit, that he was called to do something else. What began as a slight inner tug slowly began to grow. One day this man was offered a partnership in a prestigious law-firm in downtown Boston. That afternoon he walked all the way home to Cambridge, deep in thought–deep, as I imagine it, in prayer–and on that day he decided that No, he would not be a lawyer any longer. He would leave the law, go to Paris, and begin doing what he’d always longed to do: to write. So that’s what he did.
The man was Archibald MacLeish, an old family friend who became one of the most popular American poets of the late 20th century. I grew up listening to this story, and I have always loved it, because it speaks to me of a person who was entrusted with the seeds of God–though MacLeish himself might not have named it that way. To me, it is a story of someone who listened with care to a deep inner call to follow wherever the Holy One might be leading, however disruptive and unsettling that call might be.
And we have to be honest about this: if the God who comes among us is often very small, the divine life that grows up in us will be no tidy little thing that we can tend quietly in our garden like a tulip. The seeds of God do not grow into nice little posies, fit for a bouquet. They are more like the magic beans in “Jack and the Beanstalk” that spring up through the floorboards and begin toppling the house. When we open ourselves to a little rivulet of love, in the end we open ourselves to the whole river as today’s psalm says, “the river of God is full of water” [bbllink]Psalm 65:9[/bbllink]. And so the divine life begins to travel through us, de-centering the ego and de-throning our claim to belong to no one but ourselves. Our whole lives can begin to change, so that we become a new person, with new eyes, a new heart, a new way of living in the world.
One more things about seeds: it’s not only God who is a sower of seeds. Like God, we, too, sow seeds for the future. A kind word sends out a little more kindness into the world. A harsh word sends out a little more bitterness, a little more fear. What are the seeds that we are sowing? Are we sowing seeds of contempt, selfishness, or anxiety? Are we sowing seeds of respect, kindness, truthfulness, and courage? I wonder how my life would change if I remembered that every single moment contains the seeds of the future. Would I speak more kindly and listen with greater care? Would I take more risks to love fully and freely, holding nothing back? Would I learn to trust more deeply that every act of love, however small, has an effect and can bear fruit in ways I might never have imagined?
That’s the great promise in today’s passages from Scripture. Today Jesus tells us that when we take in the seeds of God and let them root, our lives will bear fruit. Whether it be a hundredfold, or sixty, or thirty times over, our lives will become a blessing to others, as if God has the power to take our small efforts to do good and to multiply them, grace upon grace. God makes the same promise through the prophet Isaiah, proclaiming that “as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it” [bbllink]Isaiah 55: 10-11[/bbllink]. Hold on to this promise when your efforts seem futile and everything you’ve tried seems to have come to naught. The word that God has sown in you will yet bear fruit, even if you know nothing about it. If you consent, if you say Yes, God will accomplish in you and through you exactly what God has purposed.
This week I traveled to Washington, D.C., to spend a day fasting near the White House with about 30 other activists as part of a three-day event to protest the failure of the United States to act more decisively to slow global warming. We were an unusual coalition of environmental, youth, and religious groups, conducting what was apparently the first-ever fast in this country to protest global warming. Some of you took part in a companion fast here at home and some of you prayed with us, and I am grateful for that.
But did this small action make any difference? Will this seed of an effort have any lasting effect? In a world of violence and fear, of massive poverty in Africa, genocide in Darfur, war in Iraq, bombings in London, and an environmental crisis almost too large to face, do any of our individual actions make any difference? Today’s Scripture readings tell us: Yes. Trust the seeds of God. Our exuberant farmer-God is casting seeds among us every day. Notice them. Give them room to take root and grow. Cast the seeds that God gives you to cast. Let God work freely in your life and don’t worry about the results: God will make use of you, and you will bear fruit, and the day will come, as Isaiah says, when “you shall go forth in joy, and be led back in peace; [and] the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands” [bbllink]Isaiah 55: 12[/bbllink].
So today we say Yes: Yes to the love whose power working in us can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine, Yes to the mighty love that brought forth the whole creation, Yes to the love that is soft as a whisper, as persistent as a growing plant, as gentle as child’s hand that holds a hiking shoe and a brown shoelace.